Proceedings of the Subcommittee on
Issue No. 4 - Evidence - April 13, 2016
OTTAWA, Wednesday, April 13, 2016
The Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs of the Standing Senate Committee on
National Security and Defence met this day at 12:13 p.m. to continue its study
on the services and benefits provided to members of the Canadian Forces; to
veterans; to members and former members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,
and their families.
Senator Joseph A. Day (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, today, we are continuing our study on
the services and benefits provided to members of the Canadian Forces; to
veterans; to members and former members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,
and their families.
From the Department of Veterans Affairs, we're very pleased to welcome, in
his first official visit with this subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, the newly
appointed Minister of Veterans Affairs and — this is important to remember — the
Associate Minister of National Defence. Along with the minister is the Deputy
Minister, who has been before us on a number of occasions and is always welcome
back, retired General Walt Natynczyk.
Thank you both for being here today. We look forward to learning more about
your activities and what you have learned in your few months in the position,
Mr. Minister. Your presentation and answers to our questions will be very
valuable to us as we reflect on the services and benefits provided to veterans
and their families.
We did an interim report on operational stress injury before the last
election, and that forms the basis for our continued interest in this particular
area from the point of view of veterans, still-serving members of the force who
will retire and become subject to the legislation for veterans, as well as
veterans and their families of the RCMP.
We will be interested in hearing from you as well on any challenges that
you've found in your position, in particular with respect to your mandate
letter, and if there is any area where you feel that this small subcommittee may
be able to help.
Sir, the floor is yours.
Hon. Kent Hehr, P.C., M.P., Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate
Minister of National Defence: Thank you very much, and it's a real thrill
for me to be here today, and congratulations on being appointed to this
committee. Most of you are well aware of veterans' issues and the work the
Department of Veterans Affairs carries out. I appreciate your dedication.
I'm keen to hear how service-related injuries impact first responders,
municipal police and RCMP, and how we might be able to apply that knowledge to
It's an honour and privilege to be named Minister of Veterans Affairs and
Associate Minister of National Defence and to work alongside members of our
Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, veterans and their families.
I understand the challenges a person faces when tragedy strikes, and when
injury and illness take their toll. I, myself, would not be here today without
the support of others as well as help from various government initiatives. I
enjoy peace, tranquility and freedom every day because of the sacrifices made by
veterans, and I hope to make a difference in their lives.
With the cooperation of the Minister of National Defence we will reduce
complexity, close the seam and rationalize benefits for veterans and their
families. Our mission is to improve our support and services and to always focus
on care, compassion, and respect.
The Prime Minister has given me an ambitious mandate to provide financial
security and independence, education and employment, opportunities and better
mental and physical rehabilitation for Canada's veterans. My mandate letter
provides a good road map, and we are listening to veterans' associations and
other stakeholders who will help ensure we meet the needs of veterans.
We are serious about consulting with veterans and veterans' stakeholders. We
don't tell veterans what they need; we ask them what they need. To that end, six
stakeholder advisory groups are being stood up and meetings with various groups
will be held over the next while. These advisory groups are one of the
mechanisms we use for stakeholders to give me their advice and suggestions.
To better support veterans where they live, Budget 2016 proposes to reopen
and staff offices in Charlottetown, Sydney, Corner Brook, Windsor, Thunder Bay,
Saskatoon, Brandon, Prince George and Kelowna. We will open an additional office
in Surrey and expand outreach to veterans in the North by working with local
We will hire additional case managers to reduce the veteran-to-case-manager
ratio to approximately 25 to 1. Case managers represent the first line of
intervention to help with the rehabilitation process and to coordinate referrals
to health care providers. Reducing the client-to-case-manager ratio will help
veterans make successful transitions to civilian life.
I would just like to mention that while face-to-face interactions are great,
it's clear that veterans also want to do business and interact with us on their
terms. We have seen a rapid increase in the number of people who have registered
to use our secure online access tool, My VAC Account. There are now more than
32,000 registrants; a tenfold increase since 2012.
We are making significant investments to ensure the financial security and
independence of disabled veterans and their families as they make the transition
to civilian life. This includes increasing the value of the Disability Award for
injuries and illness caused by service to a maximum of $360,000; indexing this
amount to inflation and paying it retroactively to all veterans who have
received this award since 2006. The average retroactive payment is projected to
be about $9,000 per person. We will be increasing the Earnings Loss Benefit to
replace 90 per cent of an eligible veterans' military salary. For example, a
veteran who was a corporal in 1996 could receive $2,000 more each year because
of this proposed enhancement. We are expanding access to the Permanent
Impairment Allowance to better support veterans with career-limiting
service-related injuries and renaming it the "Career Impact Allowance'' to
reflect the intent of the program.
We will conduct a veteran financial benefit review to simplify benefits and
to determine where the gaps remain and which programs are less than fully
effective to meet the needs of veterans and their families. This review is
essential to determine the context for the next phase of financial benefits,
including the option of a pension for life. The veterans' association, at the
last stakeholder summit, told us to take the time to get it right. This is what
we intend to do.
Similarly, we need to take action beyond financial benefits. This includes
veteran education and career transition initiatives, spousal training, mental
health and suicide prevention, amongst others. Commemorating the service and
sacrifices of Canada's veterans and those who paid the ultimate price is a key
pillar of Veterans Affairs Canada's mandate. We will remember the service and
sacrifice of those who have served by providing easier access to the Funeral and
Burial Assistance program for a dignified burial.
Budget 2016 will expand program eligibility to more families of lower income
veterans. We will do this by increasing the estate exemption from approximately
$12,000 to approximately $35,000 and apply an annual cost of living adjustment
We will continue the Community War Memorial Program by merging it with the
Commemorative Partnership Program and by making the overall application process
easier. Canadians and community groups will be able to access funding for
Although there is still much more to be done, I am proud of what has been
accomplished to date, and our work on improving benefits and services for
veterans and their families has only just begun.
On the mental health front, the Prime Minister has committed to doing better
in this area. Mental health has always been a challenge, but it has been long
overlooked in military culture. The combat mission in Afghanistan took a toll on
our troops. Over a quarter of the troops who deployed now receive some sort of
benefit from Veterans Affairs. The public discourse on mental health encouraged
many more veterans from numerous peacekeeping missions to come forward, and we
are seeing veterans from as far back as the Second World War in our offices with
previously undisclosed mental health injuries.
We have the medical research, and now is the time to do something about it.
We will create two new centres of excellence, one of which will specialize in
mental health. We understand the links between mental or physical injury,
financial instability, unemployment and the challenges that face men and women
transitioning out of the forces that can lead to homelessness. We have created a
priority secretariat that will examine three priority areas, one of which is
addressing veteran homelessness through more support for homeless and those at
risk of becoming homeless.
Through the secretariat Veterans Affairs is developing a homelessness
strategy, in collaboration with partners and stakeholders, that will identify
ways to improve existing policies and programs. We will tie our efforts to the
whole-of- government approach to ensuring that all Canadians, including
veterans, have better access to affordable housing.
Thank you again for your tireless efforts on behalf of veterans. I ask for
your collaboration and support so that we may advance realistic and prompt
action on our mandate. It is imperative that we meet the needs of veterans in
the most effective and efficient manner possible, all the while doing it with
care, compassion and respect.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Minister Hehr. We appreciate your
comments. As is our practice, we normally now would go into a dialogue, question
and answer, with honourable senators.
I will begin with the deputy chair of the committee, from the province of
Quebec, Senator Dagenais.
Senator Dagenais: Thank you, Minister, for being with us today. My
first question pertains to disability awards and the re-establishment of
lifelong pensions. You are talking about increasing the value of the disability
award to a maximum of $360,000. Did I understand that correctly? What rationale
did you use in arriving at that amount?
Mr. Hehr: Well, over the course of time Veterans Affairs had set and
established that at a much lower rate for our veterans. These are for people who
have had pain and suffering associated with the disability they suffered while
in active service. We looked at former ombudsman's reports and recommendations
going forward, and they recommended that we increase that Disability Award.
I will also point out that the Canadian public can receive awards in the
amount of approximately $363,000 through the courts. We wondered why a man or
woman who has served in our military would not have the same sort of
compensation available to them.
That's how we landed on that number. We felt it reflected what was happening
out in Canadian society, as well as what our men and women who suffer illness
and injury through their service were entitled to. We also note that even when
they tie into this Disability Award they are still eligible for the range of
services that Veterans Affairs Canada provides, whether that be through
employment, education or assistance through other issues. So there's a suite of
benefits that goes along with that understanding of the Disability Award
compensation, and that's how we landed on that number. We thought it was the
right thing to do and recognized it more appropriately with what was happening
out in Canadian society.
Senator Dagenais: Now, I'd like to discuss the re-establishment of
lifelong pensions. As I understand it, it would be an option. Could you explain,
for us, what the conditions governing those lifelong pensions are and how all of
that will fit into the current disability award regime?
Mr. Hehr: My mandate is to re-establish lifelong pensions as an option
for injured veterans and to increase the value of the Disability Award, which we
have just done, while ensuring that every injured veteran has access to
financial advice and support so they can determine the form of compensation that
works best for them and their families. The government has made it a priority
for us to re-establish this. We remain committed to our mandate letter from the
We met with our stakeholder groups on approximately December 4, shortly after
I became the Minister of Veterans Affairs. We went through the gaps that had
emerged since the introduction of the New Veterans Charter in 2005. Some
veterans preferred the option of having a lifelong pension. With the increase of
our Disability Award and how we roll that out going forward, in consultation
with our stakeholders and an understanding of what we're trying to achieve,
we're giving those members the option to return to either the lifetime pension
or financial security that fits their family in that regard. That's how we're
going to go forward.
We're sitting down very shortly with that stakeholder group to work through
that process at the time.
General Natynczyk, may want to add something.
General (Ret'd) W. J. Natynczyk, Deputy Minister, Veterans Affairs Canada:
Sir, I think you've got it.
Senator Lang: Welcome, Mr. Minister. I appreciate your enthusiasm for
your position. It certainly is very evident, and it is nice to see.
I would like to go into two areas that you spoke of. You talked about
expanding outreach to veterans in the North by working with local partners. As a
senator from the Yukon, obviously that would be of interest to me. Perhaps you
can expand on exactly what that will entail.
Mr. Hehr: When we looked at the cohort of veterans who were coming
back and needing services, we made a commitment during the last election to
reopen the nine offices that were closed during the last administration. When we
looked at where veterans were not getting services and where more people
returning from service were living, we identified the Surrey region and noted
that there was very little contact with Veterans Affairs in the North. We have
men and women who have served in that capacity in our northern territories and
regions, and they deserve our help, support and our outreach.
Working through that, we have identified that as an area, going forward,
where our department can do better. I know we've established some parameters
around that, but I'll let General Natynczyk fill out any details.
Gen. Natynczyk: Can I just add, sir, that what we realize is that
there are some veterans who are scattered all across the North and their linkage
back to Veterans Affairs was either down through Vancouver, Edmonton or the
Winnipeg and Montreal offices. We are proposing to government — because we still
have not gone through Treasury Board — the idea of a mobile team that would be
able to go up into the North and leverage partnerships with the Legions and
other associations up there, like the Rangers, so that we can connect with those
We recently had a senior executive on a trip up to Northwest Territories in
the area of Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik who found veterans from the Bosnian and
Afghan campaigns who were up there in these small communities. These are
communities of 200 people and less, and there we have veterans. We need to be
able to provide contact up there, recognizing, as the minister said in his
preamble, that we still have online services with My VAC Account, where we have
had a huge uptake in the last few years, but sometimes people need that personal
Mr. Hehr: I think I would be remiss if I did not note, too, that
historically First Nations, the Métis Nation and Inuit have all been active
participants in military service at generally higher rates than rank-and-file
Canadian populations. It makes sense that we're doing a better job reaching out
to those members who have served and continue to serve.
Senator Lang: Let me be more specific, if I could, so I have a clear
understanding here. Do I take it there would be what you call a mobile team that
would go to the North on a regular basis to meet with those veterans that are in
need of service?
Also, you referred to the Legions as a local partner. What exactly would your
expectations of those organizations be in representing some of the
responsibilities of Veterans Affairs?
Gen. Natynczyk: I think it's premature to be too definitive because we
still have to go through Treasury Board to lay things out. We recognize that
there isn't a huge critical mass, but we have veterans all over the North, and
the idea of a mobile office is one of the concepts.
Senator Lang: I want to go to the point about creating two new centres
of excellence in veterans care, which includes the specialization in mental
health and post-traumatic stress disorder and related issues for both veterans
and first responders.
Is this being done in concert with a provincial jurisdiction, or is this
going to be a stand-alone type of centre? The reason I ask this is because the
provinces are responsible for mental health care in this country, and I'm
concerned that we're duplicating, in some respects, some responsibilities but,
at the same time, if there is a partnership then you might get a much better
Mr. Hehr: You bring up an excellent point. We have identified this in
our mandate letter. We have a lot of research going on at universities
throughout this country on PTSD, and in fact have organizations that are already
doing that hard work. We have a lot of the science behind what is happening. We
have 25 per cent of our members returning from the Afghan theatre with mental
health issues, so this is an imperative need.
We are looking at different ways to do this, whether we're going to
incorporate some uses of not only the research but the treatment of PTSD. We
understand that we have to connect with our provincial partners to ensure our
veterans are getting into the health care systems in their home provinces,
should that be where the best treatment is available. We're currently working
through all of those issues to try and provide our veterans with the services
they need, when they need them and where they live.
For the centre of excellence, we're taking in and looking at a whole host of
initiatives to maximize this not only for veterans, because my mandate letter
includes first responders as well. How do we maximize the use and capabilities
of that? Looking at tying those best practices into the work of our provincial
partners is going to be imperative to the work we do going forward.
Senator White: Thanks to both of you for being here. Congratulations,
minister, on your appointment, and it's always great to see you, general.
For the purposes of full disclosure I want to acknowledge that I am a veteran
of the RCMP, and some of my questions will resolve around the RCMP and municipal
policing. I've had this discussion with both of you previously, but I think it's
important to bring it up again.
The discussion I have had with the Minister of Public Safety as well is the
lack of direct access for RCMP veterans to Veterans Affairs that the military
has. I think, as an example, of the ability for RCMP veterans to access some
segments of Veterans Affairs because they possibly haven't gone through the
disability process that I know military veterans still have immediate access to.
I recognize, deputy minister, that each time I ask this you always say they'll
never be turned away and I appreciate that, but my perspective is that they
should not have to hope that they will never be turned away. It should be
The second piece for me is the fact that in theatre, in Afghanistan and other
locations, up to half of the people operating under the direction of the RCMP in
those locations, under UN CIVPOL, are not RCMP officers but are municipal and
provincial police officers who have no access to Veterans Affairs. If it's
anticipated that 25 per cent of them are going to come back with some mental
health issues — and it might be a similar number — they actually have to end up
on whatever program the municipality or the province provides. I would like to
see, at some point, a review to include municipal police officers operating — as
a reservist was for the military — as a form of reservist for the RCMP overseas
so they would at least get the same benefits and access that RCMP members
Mr. Hehr: At our stakeholder meeting on December 4 we had
representatives from the RCMP who expressed similar views to yours: They would
like to see a closer connection to Veterans Affairs, the services we provide and
For more detail on what we're working on, or the rules of engagement as they
exist right now, general, perhaps you could fill in the gaps.
Gen. Natynczyk: Thanks very much, senator, for the question. Just to
reinforce what the minister said, we have involved the RCMP veterans'
associations at all the stakeholder meetings that we have had.
What is challenging in dealing with the RCMP is that our provision of
services to the RCMP is through an MOU and not through legislation. We have a
memorandum of understanding where Veterans Affairs is a service provider to the
RCMP to the degree that the RCMP wish. We flow through all the services that the
RCMP requests, and the RCMP decided not to move to the New Veterans Charter. So
the RCMP are on the Pension Act, not the New Veterans Charter.
I am aware that they are looking at Budget 2016 and all that has occurred
with it, but I'll leave that to the RCMP leadership.
As I mentioned to you before, if RCMP members, for instance, show up to the
Operational Stress Injury Social Support network, for which they have not yet
signed on to, we will embrace them. I have attended OSISS groups when RCMP are
in attendance, and I have said to the folks in the chain of command to welcome
them and we'll provide that support, but it's whatever the RCMP wish.
Beyond that, our mandate really is on those veterans and on your former
Senator White: I understand, and I appreciate that.
It's always a difficult discussion, because I know I'm talking to the wrong
end of the horse at times, here. The good end, I mean. I do believe the
membership and the retirees are being left out.
As an example, the RCMP, in the last couple of years, have actually walked
away from the direct medical benefits that members receive and have gone into
provincial mandates. So I think it's going to get worse, not better, and, on top
of that, we'll be walking into workers' compensation programs within each of the
provinces. So we are actually going to treat RCMP members differently in every
province in this country while they are on the job. I'm afraid that it will end
up meaning treating them differently when they are off the job as well.
I appreciate the concern. Minister, I appreciate you letting me bend your ear
one day about this already. It is key for us that we make it a permanent
position of our government that we actually treat RCMP veterans the same way we
treat military veterans. I hope we always have a deputy minister who is willing
to take care of them. I appreciate you being here.
The Chair: And their families.
Senator White: Absolutely.
Senator Mitchell: Thank you, minister. Speaking of Alberta, it's great
to have you representing it in the cabinet. Thanks for being here with us. I'm
going to refer to a news report I saw just recently about Corporal Franklin
mentioning that, despite the fact he has had two legs amputated that aren't
coming back he has to prove, I think every year, in writing, that he is still
disabled. I know you're undertaking some steps to streamline processes, but are
you making progress there?
Mr. Hehr: I sense that we are. The former administration streamlined
some of the forms and paperwork that go out, because it has to be crafted. We
have many veterans with many different, unique situations.
I will also say that I think it's important that we, as a department, reach
out to veterans through communication, whether that be through some form of
written correspondence or what we call filling out paperwork and the like, to
understand the changing needs and to confirm certain things are happening in
their lives. I think it is striking that balance between too much communication
and too little. If we don't reach out to people through this type of mechanism,
they say, "Veterans Affairs has forgotten about me.''
You've been in this business a long time, senator, and a certain amount of
paperwork is necessary. For instance, I fill out every year, for the Government
of Alberta, that I'm still a C5 quadriplegic. As a result of my having that
paperwork filled out, I generally have a meeting. They inquire about my
situation, whether they are providing the services that I need in a timely
fashion, and going from that end. So there will always be a certain amount of
communication. We are going to continue to try to do that better, respectful of
what veterans need and how much that communication is. But there is always going
to be that ebb and flow.
We want to keep those lines of communication open, even if some of those
questions may be a bit redundant. I get the frustration myself, having to fill
out paperwork from time to time and on an ongoing basis.
Senator Mitchell: The question of legislation verses MOU with respect
to the RCMP, I'd like pursue a little bit further.
Under the memorandum of understanding, does the RCMP budget cover the
services that Veterans Affairs provides for RCMP members? Is it a budgetary
issue for them? Second, would you know if have they consulted with their
personnel as to whether or not they think they should be excluded from the New
Veterans Charter or whether, in fact, their veterans would like that as well?
What is their policy? Maybe it's not a question you can answer. Third, would
legislation make it better? Would you prefer to have legislation?
Mr. Hehr: I sense that the general handled that last question. I've
heard many RCMP officers who have indicated a desire to become more a part of
Veterans Affairs. So we see that many of the RCMP wish for that desire. But,
again, this is something that they have to decide — where they want to go and
how that works on various issues.
As the general indicated, right now we manage their contract, but that's more
on a flow-through basis. We provide the services that they need through that
mechanism, and that's the way we've gone about it so far.
I'd ask the general to maybe prognosticate a bit more on the future of what
is going to happen, if that's what you're asking. I'm not certain where the RCMP
is on this or the discussions they've had with various departments.
Gen. Natynczyk: Sir, I can't add very much more. We are there to
provide support, the support that they request. Our officials have been talking
to the RCMP so they have as much information, as soon as possible, on all the
initiatives coming through Budget 2016 so that a decision can be made by their
leadership, but really I would not want to presume where their stance is with
regard to legislation.
Senator Mitchell: I'm interested in the comparison between the
lifelong pension value and the lump-sum value. Maybe I have these figures not
I think the 100 per cent lump-sum pension would be $310,000. If you invested
that today, you would be lucky to get 3 per cent. You would be lucky to get 2
per cent. Let's say you get 3 per cent; it's $9,000 a year. If you took the
maximum pension, which is about $1,800 a month, that's getting to be $21,000 a
year. You mentioned that there is counselling. Hopefully, that kind of
comparison is made.
How is the judgment made between the value of the maximum lump sum and the
value of the monthly pension? Because you're going to get a lot more money
monthly from the pension than you would from a lump sum, unless you go into the
capital and run through it pretty quickly.
Mr. Hehr: We provide that financial counselling service to all members
who are taking a lump sum at this time, and we make it available. We're
encouraging more members to make sure they have an understanding that this money
is not inexhaustible, that it has an ability to make their lives better, both in
the short and the long run.
We have seen issues come up from time to time where that money doesn't go
always as far as they are hoping it will. That's why we're exploring the way to
get that option of a lifetime pension, how we get that best recognition to our
military men and women and how to best implement that.
We will be working with our stakeholders on this. This is one of those issues
that our veterans have called for. Despite delivering what I thought was a
pretty significant budget, knocking off 6 of my 15 mandate letters, they
continue to let me know, in no uncertain terms, that we need to do more.
Understand that we are going to keep on working through this.
Gen. Natynczyk: Just to say, sir, that with regard to the pension that
still exists and that we are paying out, what people don't realize is that that
monthly pension actually has two key components in it. One is a recognition of
pain and suffering. The other is an economic benefit. They are put together in
one amount that the veteran gets each month, for those who are under the Pension
Under the current New Veterans Charter, you have a Disability Award, which is
a non-economic recognition of pain and suffering. Then, for those veterans who
require it, especially going through vocational rehab, you have an Earnings Loss
Benefit that provides them with financial security until they get their
independence again. Also, there is the idea of the Career Impact Allowance,
which recognizes that they have lost potential over their career. So, when we
look at the amounts of the Pension Act, we have to keep in mind that that
actually is a combination of two amounts; a non-economic and an economic.
Senator Mitchell: Okay, I see what you're seeing. Whereas the grant is
just the one.
Gen. Natynczyk: Right. We're going very deliberately. That's why the
veterans' association said to take the time to get it right, because in the past
we have rushed through some of the legislation and they want to be very
deliberate on this. That's what the minister is doing.
Senator Kenny: Thank you, chair. Good to see you here, minister, and
I'm particularly interested in the systems of feedback you have for
satisfaction amongst veterans. Do you have a systematic way of measuring
satisfaction? Do you have a way of publicizing the results so that Canadians
know how veterans are feeling about the policies that you're implementing?
Mr. Hehr: That's a good question. It's my understanding that we are
actively seeking input from veterans and their stakeholders through some of the
work I am doing right now, in the establishment of six groups to advise our
policy going forward.
It's also my understanding, until the general corrects me on this, that we
are looking towards doing more surveys with our veterans to understand how our
services are working, where they are in their lives, where we can be more
supportive and how to get the family involved in our whole motto of treating the
veterans and their families with care, compassion and respect.
We are looking forward to hearing from people who are on our services, who
are going to be on our services, to get a real handle on what they need. I think
some of the work I'll be doing as Associate Minister of National Defence, with
the Minister of National Defence, is closing the seam and understanding better
what our military men and women leaving the Canadian Armed Forces want with
their lives. Showing them how they can tie into financial benefits, educational
and career training options is very important. I think it's an important thing
we need to do in our department, to hear directly from people who use our
services and to understand whether we are serving their needs.
Senator Kenny: It's not that I'm not impressed with what you're doing.
What I'm concerned about is having, let's say, four times a year with a cheque
that goes out, a survey that asks, "Okay, how are we doing?'' and asking about
it in different ways, and then publishing the results and making sure the public
knows about it. It will have a positive impact on how things are going,
depending on the answers you get back.
I think it would be a very positive step for you to set aside some funds so
that you and your colleagues have a clear understanding of what the reactions of
veterans are, as opposed to sitting down with working groups. That's important
for developing things, but in terms of keeping a measure of the pulse on an
ongoing basis, I'm really asking about something more systematic and perhaps a
little larger than you're describing.
Gen. Natynczyk: Thanks for the question. You're absolutely spot-on.
The minister has actually authorized restarting the veterans' satisfaction
surveys that used to occur years ago. We will restart that now. We're working
with Stats Canada to come up with the right kind of questionnaires and to have
them go out on a regular basis.
Senator Kenny: I'm not talking about a percentage. I'm talking about
asking them all.
Gen. Natynczyk: Going out to all veterans, absolutely. It's a
veterans' satisfaction survey, on an ongoing basis, as services are delivered.
Senator Wallin: I don't want to get too far into the weeds here, but
what we have heard in testimony from the ombudsman and through other anecdotal
evidence are two concerns really. One is the timeline for assessment and
transition, and that that's sometimes a product of no access to proper medical
care for mental health or physical health issues. That becomes a problem. Is
there anywhere in this new system where that timeline is going to be narrowed or
Second, the other issue — this is one I'm a little concerned about asking
about — is the career impact allowance, or the assessment of what you are worth
over your lifetime. If you're a general and you're injured at the end of your
career, we know where you are in the system, what your income potential was and
where you are. If you're six months into the CF and you lose two legs, we don't
know whether you would have been good, bad, successful or gone up the ranks or
not. How do you start to build in those assessments? Is there a formula or is
Mr. Hehr: I'll deal with your first question. We have read those
ombudsman reports and those recommendations that were given. We had identified
areas where our veterans weren't getting timely service in terms of having their
claims processed and getting their needs met. I think Budget 2016 goes a long
way to addressing those concerns with the reopening of those points of contact:
the nine offices, as well as the new one in Surrey and our outreach up North.
We have also started the process of hiring more staff. Under the previous
administration 800 front-line workers were taken off their duties. That was an
assessment that we went back and looked at. Our veterans weren't getting the
supports they needed. We have rehired 183 people to date, including 72 case
managers as well as other service coordinators who are working to ensure
veterans and their families are getting the care they need when they need it.
That will go a long way to addressing some of the backlogs that were
emerging. We sense we have gotten to a place where we have cleared up those
backlogs. We'll continue to monitor this to ensure we have the appropriate level
I can also say that through my work with Minister Sajjan that it is also
important to assess, when a person is leaving our Canadian Armed Forces, how we
will transition them to Veterans Affairs. That has been identified as a problem
by the ombudsman for National Defence on both sides.
I have been to our stress injury clinics and our IPSCs out in Vancouver,
Hamilton and other places. They said, "Look, sometimes we have a member who
knows for two years that they are going to be leaving the service and yet we
don't have the capacity to meet with them until 15 days before they
transition.'' It's very important to look at how we get their financial benefits
set up for the day they leave the CAF, how we get the educational component and
their return to work, if they are able to, in civilian life. That has been
identified in the ombudsman's reports, and that's why I think it was very wise
of the Prime Minister to identify this as an issue and give it to both Minister
Sajjan and me to get to work on.
Senator Wallin: The Americans do it, so it's clearly doable.
Do you want to try to tackle the assessment question a little bit?
Gen. Natynczyk: I can tackle a few things, if you like.
Mr. Hehr: Then I'll go back to the earning loss benefit.
Gen. Natynczyk: On the transition, as the minister said, the key there
is starting as early as possible once the Canadian Armed Forces determine that a
person will have to leave the forces because of universality of service. We are
working very closely with the Chief of the Defence Staff, Deputy Minister and
minister-to-minister on how we can begin as early as possible, recognizing that
the other entity out there is SISIP. We're working the SISIP dimension as well,
the idea being to ensure that, when an individual turns in his or her ID card,
as much work as possible was done while they were still receiving their salary
with the Canadian Armed Forces. I think that is absolutely key.
As the minister indicated, we have hired additional adjudicators, and we have
also changed the evidence model in terms of adjudication. When it's a
straightforward musculoskeletal injury — especially if you consider an
infantryman with ankle, knee, hip or back issues — an artilleryman with a
hearing issue or an individual who has been on tough to deployments and has a
mental health injury, we have expedited those adjudications significantly, in
addition to hiring additional adjudicators.
Mr. Hehr: Your question was very good in terms of how we're going to
support veterans who have become disabled while serving in our Armed Forces.
It's very important to us to ensure they are getting their financial security
taken care of, because without that financial security it's very difficult to
move on with rebuilding the life of the member and their family.
That's why I think it was important that we moved the earning loss benefit
from 75 per cent of a pre-release salary to 90 per cent. This seemed to make
sense from our end. Why should an injured member be penalized in such a dramatic
fashion when we recognize that 90 per cent is more appropriate and what other
compensation systems are utilizing?
In terms of where we've gone to in the ELB change, the ELB was basically
designed to take care of a member's basic needs. By moving it to where we are,
to a private level from a corporal, we needed a corporal level before that to
ensure their basic needs were taken care of. Now, with our introduction of
moving it to 90 per cent, this ensures that all members, regardless of rank,
will be able to have their basic needs met.
For instance, even at the lowest rank, they will be receiving up to $2,000
more per year in their pockets, for them and their families.
It was a good change, one that is going to ensure that their families have
more financial security and are able to build their lives from it. I think that
is some of the messaging from our department that didn't get out there quite as
well, and we have to ensure that veterans know that no one is being penalized
under this new system. They will all have better financial security for them and
their families and to build their lives.
Gen. Natynczyk: Can I just add that it's interesting, when you look
back to Bill C-55, it set a floor in terms of the financial support at about
$40,000. In Budget 2015, we used the rank mechanism to bump up the privates who
were below that floor to north of that floor. So they received, through the
budget last year, in the zone just below 90 per cent of their pre-release
Budget 2016 moved the entire rank structure to 90 per cent of their
pre-release and all of them, using all of their ranks, are north of $40,000.
Senator Wallin: There is no way, really, to capture — I guess it's
wishful thinking — the potential that you never know could have been there.
Gen. Natynczyk: Can I just say that that's where the Permanent
Impairment Allowance, now to be renamed the "Career Impact Allowance,'' is. In
Budget 2015, last year, we increased the number of people inside the PIA, to be
renamed CIA, by using an additional factor of limitations on mobility. Budget
2016 allowed us to move more veterans into the upper levels and stages of the
"Career Impact Allowance.'' That's precisely the purpose of that benefit, to
recognize that a young private or corporal could have gone on to be a sergeant
or major, and so on, over his or her career.
Senator Wallin: Very helpful, yes.
Mr. Hehr: That was a consistent complaint from ombudsmen and auditors
general, that we weren't doing a good job of properly assessing what the
disability level was. In fact, 92 per cent of the people who were previously
identified were going into that bottom rung. The additional resources we put
into the Permanent Impairment Allowance, or now "Career Impact Allowance,'' will
allow us to get more people in the appropriate place to recognize that
transition and where they would have been through their military service.
Senator Wallin: Most helpful. Thank you very much.
The Chair: Minister, my understanding is that your government is
proceeding with the decision to divest Ste. Anne's Hospital in Montreal to the
provincial government, and then you will be paying an amount to the provincial
government to operate the veterans' hospital that has been there and done a
great job for veterans. That institution, generally, was doing a very good job
with respect to post-traumatic stress, and the research that was going on there
was applicable to veterans and also others across Canada and around the world.
Can you tell us what is happening with respect to the research aspect and
confirm for us that the veterans' hospital will be transferred to the provincial
Mr. Hehr: Thank you for the question. It was really a long negotiation
process between us and the Government of Quebec that really came to fruition
here with the transfer that happened, I believe, within the last couple of
weeks, April 1. The veterans who are currently there will have a seamless
transition. The same care they received when we were in charge of the hospital
will be handled by the provincial government. We have ensured that.
Also, I think this is a good news day for the Canadian public in general, in
that we were seeing many of our soldiers who were eligible for services at Ste.
Anne's, who were Second World War and Korean veterans, sadly starting to move
on. So maximizing that space — Ste. Anne's has had a long history, a proud
history — to allow more people to have access to the health care services they
need is good for the province of Quebec and good for the Canadian health care
I also know, because we went to Ste. Anne's to meet with the veterans and
staff there, the good work they have done on post-traumatic stress. They have
beds there for 10 people to get intensive therapy, one-on-one work, with our
support system at Ste. Anne's. That will a model that we will continue to look
at and continue to address in what we're going to do at our centre of
We see that as something that has worked for a great many people from coast
to coast, where it also allows for their families to come in and take part in
this therapy. So we're going to try to ensure that this continues in our work,
going forward, on PTSD.
I will allow the general to add to that.
Gen. Natynczyk: Senator, thanks for the question. There are three
separate issues. As the minister indicated, Ste. Anne's Hospital transfer, it's
amazing when you consider it's 99 years old this year, centennial next year. We
have just south of 300 veterans there, and it was a seamless transfer. We are
still working with the Province of Quebec, and they've just had to hire about
250 new employees. We have had a lot of employees retire, but the vast majority
of them, about 75 per cent, either accepted offers with the province or have
come back on a casual basis with the province to be there for the veterans. So
that was great news.
Part of the research you talk about is the partnership between that hospital
and McGill University. McGill University has a research effort in terms of
gerontology, and that's where most of the research at Ste. Anne's Hospital is
happening. It is my understanding that Quebec really does appreciate and value
that partnership, and that research will continue on with McGill. Also, McGill
is a part of the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research,
and so a lot of work will be done there as well.
The third component is the operational stress clinic injury clinic. The one
at Ste. Anne's, similar to the ones across the country — and the minister runs
11 clinics across the country — is run by the province in that location. What is
unique about Ste. Anne's is that it has two components. One is a day clinic, and
one is a residential one, as the minister indicated, with 10 beds. Our MOU, our
transfer agreement with the province, allows that OSI clinic to continue, both
in residential and in day visits.
The Chair: Our committee has visited that establishment in the past,
and we found that it was very encouraging to see the work that was going on. At
our next visit we can anticipate that we'll still be encouraged, and we'll still
see the good work going on that has gone on in the past.
Thank you. Now, there is one other area I wanted to ask you about. This is
somewhat technical, and if you don't have an answer I'd certainly understand
because I didn't give you notice of this.
Last year there a piece of legislation was passed with respect to the Public
Service Employment Act to bring the definition of the term veteran up to date in
that act to cover any veteran of the Armed Forces who had served for at least
three years and been honourably discharged, and would be in a position to apply
for priority hiring within the federal government.
Unfortunately, the definition of survivor of a veteran was not changed, so
the only survivors eligible to apply for a job within the public service are
survivors of Second World War veterans. We brought this to the attention of the
government last year, when the legislation was going through, but that amendment
Has that been brought to your attention, and would you consider looking at
Mr. Hehr: There are a couple of things there. We are actively working
on ensuring that our men and women who have served get opportunities to take
part in the public service, and a lot of that was highlighted through that
private member's bill. We're continuing to work through that.
We are also trying to expand opportunities through the Community Benefits
Agreement that we're going to be doing in our infrastructure rollout with
Minister Sohi on this to ensure that people are getting opportunities to work in
that capacity. We are continuing to do our work with other partners like Helmets
to Hardhats and other organizations, in seeing that our men and women get
opportunities to build their lives. In terms of the specific question you ask, I
may have to kick that to the general and see if he can add anything to that
Gen. Natynczyk: Really, I can't. It's the first time I'm hearing of
The Chair: I thought that may be the case. I will undertake to send
along some information on that. I think it was really an oversight rather than
an attempt to exclude families from this benefit that had been included in the
past. I'll do that, Mr. Minister and Mr. Deputy Minister.
We have about five minutes left in the time that we had allocated. I have
three senators who have indicated they would like to participate in the second
round. Our second round of questioning is for those follow-up questions that
senators didn't have an opportunity to ask or thought about after they had their
opportunity earlier on. They're short, snappy questions, and I think we can get
through the three senators in five minutes.
Senator Dagenais: Minister, General, you are both aware of the
suicides among members of the armed forces and veterans. I'd like to know where
things stand with the suicide prevention strategy being developed for members of
the military and veterans.
Mr. Hehr: It is tragic when any person takes their life or
contemplates taking their life. A lot of the hard work I will be doing with
Minister Sajjan over the coming year will be to put together a comprehensive
strategy to try and reduce this unfortunate occurrence that happens. We have to
look at all angles of this with care, compassion and respect, and understanding
that men and women who served in our military deserve our support. We're looking
at best practices on how we can reduce the stigma on mental health and ensuring
they get the help when they need it.
We provide pretty good services in terms of mental health supports and have a
24-hour hotline for people in emergency situations or entirely stressful
situations. We have to continue to reduce the stigma and continue to do better,
and that is a lot of what we'll be going forward with in the coming year.
I remind you that I've only been minister for 163 days, and we're drinking
from the fire hose, trying to guzzle down as much as we can. This is definitely
something we are working on.
Senator Dagenais: I can certainly appreciate the issue you have to
deal with, having had very close colleagues take their lives when I was a Sûreté
du Québec police officer. Sometimes, you don't even know about it. I certainly
do appreciate your answer and the work you are doing. Thank you very much,
Senator Lang: I was just thinking back through the history of our
committee over the course of the hearings, and I believe the general was
involved in some of those discussions. That question was with regard to the
number of programs that have been instituted over the years for the purposes of
meeting the requirements for veterans, and the time to review these programs to
see if some of them could be amalgamated so that veterans would get more benefit
from them than having them divided into these various silos.
Where are we with that review? Is there a review under way and, if there is,
when can we expect some results?
Mr. Hehr: We are going forward with a comprehensive review of our
financial services. Obviously there are no two veterans who are exactly alike,
hence probably the multitude of services that Veterans Affairs provides.
As I said in my introductory statements, we are going to be looking at that
to see which ones are providing value and support and where we need to augment
them or blend them together. That's what our department is doing, and we'll
continue that work going forward.
Obviously, my stakeholder groups are going to be important in this, and a lot
of this discussion will happen when we look at the different aspects of family
support, mental health support and return to work, and even in our pension
discussions, looking at that suite of benefits and what that entails going
Senator Lang: We spoke a little bit earlier about expanding the
outreach to veterans in the North, and you said that it was under review and
there are certain options being considered. Would you undertake, once decisions
are taken and a clear, definitive path and direction has been agreed upon, to
inform this committee so we have that information?
Mr. Hehr: That seems like an eminently reasonable suggestion that we
can comply with.
Senator Mitchell: I'm thinking of the Boyle Street Community Centre in
Edmonton. It is a drop-in services centre for the homeless, many of whom are,
unfortunately, veterans. They are currently planning to build a new facility
with social housing for these homeless people.
You mentioned that you're working on homelessness for veterans. Are you
contemplating grants for capital building infrastructure and, if so, when and
how would it be accessed by a group like Boyle Street?
Mr. Hehr: That is a good question. Veterans Affairs Canada, prior to
this time, has never had it in our mandate. Over the course of the last 35
years, homelessness has been an issue not only in the veteran population but in
the Canadian population writ large, and we're going about this. We have hired a
secretariat to look at three elements of the programming we're doing. One of
them is how best to ensure that we are tapping veterans who are homeless — or at
risk of being homeless — into our whole-of-government approach, or looking at
other options in the community.
We have some very successful models out there in veterans' transitional
housing like Cockrell House out in Victoria. We have done these pilot projects
that have proven successful. The Housing First model is successful and how we
ensure we tie our veterans into these models and what we're doing at Veterans
We are currently doing the work, even though it's not in our mandate letter.
We take this very seriously and we'll be looking at all models out there and
trying to incorporate those best practices in our whole-of-government approach.
The Chair: Mr. Minister and Mr. Deputy Minister, thank you very much
for being here. We want you to know that the Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs is
very anxious to work with you. If you think there is any area where you think we
could be supportive, we would be pleased to hear from you in that regard.
Perhaps annually we could get together just to talk about progress and items
that come up.
Mr. Hehr: I thank you very much for your time and your contributions.
I look forward to us working together to better the lives of the men and women
who have served this great nation.